OTTAWA - With Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at his side Monday, Canada's foreign affairs minister carefully dodged questions on the expansion of Jewish settlements in Palestinian territory.

Abbas told reporters during his Ottawa visit that the international community has been clear in advocating a complete freeze on Jewish settlements in the West Bank and elsewhere.

At a meeting in Washington last week, U.S. President Barack Obama pressed Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu to stop settlement expansion, but Netanyahu said over the weekend that he would allow "natural growth" of the settlements.

Not accepting the freeze is hurting the peace dialogue, Abbas said.

"Regarding the settlements, there are several United Nations resolutions that prohibit the settlements and it's clear and precise in the roadmap - that the entire world supported - that Israel must stop all forms of settlement including natural growth," Abbas said.

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon was asked repeatedly by reporters to comment on the issue, but only provided a vague answer about development in new areas, not touching the provocative issue of growth in the existing locations.

The comments were strikingly different than those made last week by U.S. counterpart Hillary Clinton.

"Concerning the development into new areas, we've also thought it wasn't a gesture that was helpful to the advancement of peace," Cannon said.

He said Canada has supported the "roadmap" for peace, and hoped the two parties could sit down to discuss pushing ahead with a peace deal. The roadmap, first drafted in 2002, specifies that all Jewish settlements be curtailed, including any natural expansion due to population growth.

Abbas is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Opposition Leader Michael Ignatieff on Tuesday, and to unveil the Palestinian Authority's new diplomatic headquarters in Ottawa.

He and Cannon both expressed support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"This dedication and recommitment to the peace process is something that is welcome not only by this government but we believe by all Canadians, and a recommitment to the two-state solution, which is the Canadian position," Cannon said.

The Conservative government has tilted Canada's foreign policy in the Middle East toward Israel over the past three years.

Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney was in the country over the weekend, warning of a "new anti-Semitism" arising from western leftists and Islamic extremists.

But Abbas acknowledged that Canada has delivered financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority in the past, and has offered help in developing the territory's weak institutions.

"We thank the Canadian government for the help it has offered and is increasing," Abbas said. "On the political front, we know that Canada supports the roadmap and supports the idea of two states."

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